Most students go into GMAT prep thinking it will be the most challenging test they will ever take. But, is this true? How hard is the GMAT? We won’t lie, the GMAT is a difficult test, but it is not impossible.
It is a necessary step on a long journey of getting into business school. While the GMAT may be daunting, we can help you understand why the GMAT is so hard and what you can do to beat it.
In this guide, we will break down the components of the GMAT that make it so difficult. Keep reading to check out our explanations and helpful tips for success on the GMAT.
8 Elements That Make the GMAT Difficult
1. Computer Adaptive Test
The GMAT is a computer-adaptive test, which increases its difficulty for most students to get a high score. If you answer a question correctly, then the next question will be of a similar or higher difficulty level.
If you answer a question incorrectly, then the next question will be of equal or lesser difficulty. 
This means your GMAT score is determined by the number of questions you answered correctly and those questions' difficulty. The more difficult questions you answer correctly, the higher your score will be.
Since the test is adaptive, you cannot go back once you have responded to a question. Even if you accidentally click the wrong answer, it is set in stone.
The computer-adaptive nature of the GMAT makes it difficult for test-takers to evaluate their exam score as they go along. We recommend staying focused on the task at hand instead of trying to figure out your score while you work.
In general, the content of the GMAT is difficult. Some sections are harder than other sections. We will give you a brief breakdown of the sections and the average scores in each.
The verbal reasoning section will test your ability to read and understand written material. You will have to evaluate and reason arguments. You should also be able to do sentence correction fairly well. GMAT sentence correction comes up a lot in the verbal section. The average in the verbal section is 26.86 out of 60.
The quantitative section will test your ability to solve mathematical equations, quantitative problems, and interpret graphical data. The quant section is difficult for many students. The average score is 39.4 out of 60.
The section is unique to the GMAT. It will test you on your ability to exhibit higher-order critical reasoning skills. The integrated reasoning section will ask students to analyze data presented in tables, graphs, and charts. The average on the integrated reasoning section is 4.23 out of 8.
Analytical Writing Assessment
The analytical writing assessment will test your ability to analyze a written argument and provide a critique of that argument. You will have 30 minutes to write your essay. The average score for this section is 4.44 out of 6. You should check out our blog post about GMAT analytical writing if you wish to learn more.
3. Length of Time
Like every standardized test, the GMAT test is long. You should expect to spend about 4 hours at the testing center on test day from beginning to end.
The actual GMAT is about 3 hours long, but you will be at the test center for around 4 hours. This includes break time, sign-in, and receiving your unofficial score report.
It is not easy to sit for a test for 3 hours, so we recommend taking practice tests to prepare yourself for the GMAT duration.
It would help if you remembered to eat snacks and stretch on your break to keep your brain active and focused.
Most students struggle with pacing during the GMAT. The Graduate Management Admission Council designed the test to be demanding and relatively fast-paced. It would be best if you were prepared to spend less time than you want on each question.
You have approximately 2 minutes per question on the quantitative section and 1.8 mins per question on the verbal section. While this may seem like a lot of time, it isn’t once you begin the test. Overall, you don’t have much time to complete each section. Some questions might take you longer than others. You should be aware of your time remaining throughout the whole exam.
We recommend wearing a wristwatch that keeps time to help you pace yourself. Some parts of the quant section can take much longer due to their multi-step nature. Many students also tend to second guess themselves, which can slow them down and reduce their score.
5. Verbal and Analytical Writing Requires Strong English Skills
How hard is the GMAT verbal section? The verbal and analytical writing sections require top-level English skills.
These sections might be difficult for non-native English speakers. Many international students find these sections the most difficult, especially under time pressure.
Non-native speakers and students who do not score well with writing find the analytical writing section difficult due to its open-ended nature. The GMAT is hard because you only have half an hour to write an essay. Sometimes it can take that long just to outline.
If you struggle with writing, grammar, or spelling, we recommend getting started with English grammar practice right away to help your score. You can read previous essays and take a practice test.
You should understand the format and time yourself to make sure you can write an essay within 30 minutes.
This might sound scary to students, but our advice is not to worry too much about the writing section. Some business schools do not factor in the essay portion when you take the test. If you are a non-native speaker, then the Graduate Management Admission Council will be made aware of this when looking at your application.
6. Multi-Step Questions
Another factor that makes the GMAT hard is many of the questions have multiple steps to them. These question types may be hard for test-takers because if you get the first step wrong, then the rest of the question does not make sense.
To receive full credit on these questions, you must answer all parts correctly. Some students second guess themselves halfway through the multi-step questions, which can throw them off.
This is especially true for the integrated reasoning section. Every question has multiple parts, and you will not receive credit if all parts are not answered correctly. That is why this section is only scored from 1 to 8.
There are only 8 questions, but each one has many steps. It would help if you practiced multi-step questions before test day so you know what to expect.
7. Tough Math Sections
The question types range from algebra and geometry to other high school level math skills. You should expect to see multiple-choice question types and grid-in question types.
Many students have not focused on math since high school. Most students have to spend the most time studying for this section of the exam to raise their GMAT score. Before you take the GMAT, you should take as many quant practice problems as possible.
So, how hard is the GMAT math section? It is much harder than other standardized tests such as the GRE, but the GMAT math section is not impossible. Feel free to take a look at our post about GRE vs GMAT differences if you wish to learn more.
Recommended Article: Our Honest Review of Magoosh GMAT Course
8. No Calculators Allowed
While this might sound scary, it may not be as bad as you think. You will not be allowed to have a calculator for the quantitative section of the GMAT. You can use a calculator on the integrated section, however. You cannot bring your own calculator, but one will be provided to you during the integrated portion.
Most students tend to stress out when they hear they cannot use a calculator, but it is not as bad as you might think. Most of the questions on the math section require simple arithmetics or algebraic equations.
You may not have much of a need for the basic calculator provided to you. Using the calculator can also slow you down without you even realizing it.
How Can You Beat the GMAT?
While the GMAT is hard, there are a few pieces of good news about this exam that you need to know. To get a good GMAT score, you should follow these tips and be prepared.
Standardized Tests Are Predictable
The GMAT might be difficult, but there are plenty of ways it is thoroughly predictable as well. After years of many students taking the GMAT, the data sufficiency can be helpful. You can easily find previous GMAT tests online.
You can also find practice tests available, which are exactly like the real exam. If you master the GMAT practice questions, then you have a good chance of getting a good score on the GMAT.
You should study the GMAT tests thoroughly to prepare for the exam. You can do this by looking at average GMAT scores and seeing where most students struggle. This will help you understand where you need to focus your studying. It would be best if you also practiced calculations without a calculator.
Try tallying up your grocery bill as you put things into your cart. You should practice arithmetic daily to get used to not using a calculator. You should work on simple problem-solving skills as well.
No Complex Calculations
Another good thing about the GMAT is there are no complex calculations. Out of all the four sections, you won't be expected to solve intense calculus problems, so you don't have to worry about that. Some of the math questions are hard, but they do not involve complicated calculations where you need a graphing calculator.
Objective Answer Choices
Another positive thing about the GMAT is all of the answer choices are either objectively correct or incorrect. Everything you need to solve the reading comprehension questions will be present in the reading passage above. Business schools want to see students who can solve questions objectively, which is what the GMAT tests.
Before the GMAT test day, you should understand questions and passages in an objective and logical way.
How Hard is the GMAT? The Bottom Line
So, is the GMAT as hard as everyone says it is? The answer to this question depends on how well you studied and how well you take standardized exams. It is harder than the GRE, according to most students.
We would be lying if we said it is not a hard test. If you follow our guidelines and have a thorough understanding of what makes the GMAT hard, you should get a good score by finding ways to beat it.